The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Monday night unanimously agreed to a series of tough sanctions against the regime of Kim Jung-un in North Korea, cutting its oil imports by a third and targeting its textile exports. While the sanctions were not as strict as initially requested by Washington, the measures, nevertheless, represent a significant blow to the economy of North Korea for its dual pursuit of a nuclear weapon and the capability to deliver it on to an intercontinental ballistic missile to the United States.
The events instigated by Pyongyang this summer, and the bellicose response emanating from the Oval Office in Washington, have ratcheted up tensions on the Korean peninsula, with Kim determined that his nation’s nuclear ambitions would be halted neither by the threat of military intervention nor economic sanctions. Given the sheer number of heavy artillery pieces pointed by the North across the De-Militarised Zone and targeting densely populated Seoul, any surgical strike or other conventional measures would have grave implications for South Korea.
With US President Donald Trump suggesting that his nation would deliver “fire and fury” on Pyongyang, and his forces are “locked and loaded”, there was and indeed remains cause for concern — particularly since the North detonated a 160-kilotonne device on September 3. Should Kim be tempted to conduct another such test, or fire off rockets with an intercontinental range, the likelihood of a military response cannot be understated.
These latest UNSC measures must, however, be given time to take effect. It’s the second time in the past two months that the world body has imposed harsher sanctions. In the previous round, sanctions targeted Pyongyang’s coal and ore exports, effectively projected to remove one-third of its $3-billion (Dh11 billion) annual gross domestic product. But before these sanctions could fully bite, Kim had doubled down by testing more rockets, threatening the US-protectorate of Guam, launching a missile over Japan and testing his strongest nuclear device yet.
These sanctions may indeed provoke another response from the young totalitarian dictator. Should that indeed happen, it’s vital that the regional parties and their military forces lining up against North Korea maintain status quo. The sanctions must be given time to hit Kim’s economy.
The only thinkable and realistic way forward in this crisis is for diplomatic dialogue. Russia and China have indicated they are willing to initiate these talks and want the US and South Korea to suspend military exercises in return. Given the stakes, it’s not an unreasonable request.